The Challenge in Wastewater Management
Historically, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have prioritized investments in water supply, achieving good coverage in the past years. However, there is much work yet to be done to improve sanitation services. Despite the region’s income and urbanization levels, only 60% of the region’s population is connected to a sewage system, and less than 40% of the region’s wastewater is treated - with significant implications for public health and the environment. The newly endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are adding a new dimension to the challenges in the sector by incorporating sustainability, which includes improving water quality, implementing integrated water resources management, water use efficiency across sectors, reducing the number of people suffering from water scarcity, and restoring water-related ecosystems. The ability to significantly increase the levels of wastewater treatment becomes necessary if the region is to achieve the SDGs, and should be a priority for the governments in the region.
To improve the situation, countries in the LAC region are embarking on massive programs to collect and treat wastewater. The investment requirements to achieve this are enormous. The Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) estimated that over the period 2010-2030, US$80 billion should be spent on sewerage infrastructure and US$33 billion on wastewater treatment. However, efficiently investing in wastewater and other sanitation infrastructure to achieve public health benefits, environmental objectives, and to enhance the quality of urban life is a major challenge for the region as highlighted in a recent report prepared by the World Bank on infrastructure in Latin America which states that ‘the dismal wastewater performance is a real emergency, and one that epitomizes the potential for spending better’. Improved wastewater management offers a double value proposition if, in addition to the environmental and health benefits of wastewater treatment, financial returns are also possible that cover partially or all operation and maintenance costs. Resource recovery from these facilities in the form of energy, nutrients, reusable water, and biosolids represent an economic and financial benefit that contributes to the sustainability of these systems and the water utilities operating them. There is a need for an environment that fosters those type of business models and that enables private investment in infrastructure in tandem with improved efficiency of public financing to promote sustainable service delivery, especially in the poorest countries.
Wastewater: From Waste to Resource -- A Regional Initiative to Shift Paradigms
An important paradigm shift is necessary at multiple levels to advance sustainable sanitation services towards a circular economy in which wastewater is considered a valuable resource rather than a liability. To rise to this wastewater challenge in the region, the World Bank, together with CAF and other partners, is embarking on a new initiative “Wastewater: from waste to resource”. The initiative will explore and analyze wastewater issues to provide guidance on improving the planning, management, and financing of wastewater treatment and resource recovery. The initiative aims to promote the measures needed to make the shift a reality, including adequate legislation, innovative financing, inter-sectoral regulations and policies and integrated basin planning. Importantly, this initiative emphasizes the following actions to enable this critical paradigm shift:
At the regional or country level:
At the project level:
As part of the initiative, several case studies have been developed, highlighting innovative approaches on wastewater planning, management and financing. The case studies mainly focus on innovative designs that promote resource recovery such as wastewater reuse or energy production and that enhance the financial and environmental sustainability of wastewater treatment plants. A final report summarizing all the findings of the initiative will be published so countries in the region and around the world can learn from best practices in the sector and can promote this paradigm shift towards a circular economy, promoting resource recovery and ensuring sustainable wastewater management.
● See Blog: Wastewater treatment: A critical component of a circular economy (Spanish version here)
The initiative has also been presented at several international conferences, raising awareness of the issue, and promoting a dialogue between government, international organizations and the private sector. For example, to kick start the initiative, an event was co-organized jointly with the CAF at the World Water Forum (WWF) 2018 in Brasilia “Planning and Financing Wastewater Treatment Under A Circular Economy. Perspective for Achieving the SDGs in LAC”. Panelists included ministers and deputy ministers from several countries in the region and representatives of the private sector. In Peru, a conference was also coordinated with the government to assess the challenges and the oportuniteis for resource recovery and wastewater reuse in the country.
San Luis Potosí, Mexico : Integrated Wastewater Management Plan and Water Reuse
Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia: Covered Anaerobic Ponds and Their Potential for Energy Generation in Wastewater Treatment Plants
PRODES, Brazil: Output-based financing in Brazil to increase wastewater coverage and improve water quality
Atotonilco de Tula, Mexico: Reuse of Treated Wastewater for Agriculture, Energy Generation, and Transfer of Value to Stakeholders
New Cairo, Egypt: Successful PPP to Increase Wastewater Coverage and Foster Wastewater Reuse
Durban, South Africa: Wastewater Reuse for Industrial Purposes
Ridgewood, NJ, USA: Achieving Energy Neutrality in Wastewater Treatment Plants
● One pager of the initiative
● Preliminary Report: “WASTEWATER? Shifting Paradigms: From Waste to Resource Preliminary insights for the World Water Forum 2018”.
- Investing in wastewater in Latin America can pay off
- Wastewater treatment: A critical component of a circular economy (Spanish version here)
● Previous materials on wastewater planning and management:
Last Updated: Dec 28, 2018